What is essential to the gospel, according to Luke? Part 1
What must you sign off on, to make the deal?
What must you sign off on, to make the deal?
One who “accepts the Gospel” is making a deal, a deal with God, through Jesus. They are entering into a new covenant. Whatever the minimum is that you have to accept, to confess, to get this deal, this can’t later be changed, especially by the likes of you and me. We did not set the terms of this deal; we only gladly announce it and invite others to enter in.
Some, following the traditions of Luther and Calvin, etc., will insist that “the deity of Christ,” the Trinity, or the “two natures” of Christ are essential points. Well, if they are essential, then you must agree to them to be saved, to enter into the new covenant.
But if you look at their actions, i.e. how they explain the gospel to seekers, (typically) they in fact don’t explain these as essential to the deal. Famously, consider what those who come forward at a Billy Graham meeting would be told (pp. 6-7 here).
No Trinity, no incarnation.
No surprise, if you understand pop-evangelical theology.
But, this seems correct. Assent to those difficult theories is not, cannot be required to make the deal. Some, like me, made it at the age of seven! Most Christians understand this, I think. But in theological arguments, all the partisan passions are aroused, and now people are eager to tighten up the requirements, lest we admit that those heretics ____ might actually be saved. Beware those passions!
Suppose that the Trinity and the two-natures of Jesus are essential to the gospel. This means that if you don’t preach those things, you have not preached the gospel.
Is that true? Let’s consider Luke’s account of Peter’s sermon to the people of Jerusalem on the day God poured out his spirit on the first believers. First, Peter explains the odd phenomena of their speaking in tongues; it is a miracle, not early-morning drinking! Then, the message (Acts 2:22-41):
“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.”
He then cites David as prophesying the resurrection of the Messiah in Psalm 16:8-11. He continues,
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ [Psalm 110:1]
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Trinity? No hint of it. Incarnation? Nope – absolutely nothing about it. Two natures of Jesus, that he is not only a man, but is also God? Not there. Jesus as “Godman”? Absent. “A man approved by God”? Sheesh. Peter sounds like some sort of unitarian here!
Is Peter blowing it? Has he lost a golden opportunity here to actually preach the gospel? Surely, Peter is just warming up. He’ll get around to those claims, right? Right?
But his message is already having its impact:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”
And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.
In Luke’s telling, they are cut to the chase, they repent and believe, without hearing anything about these alleged “essentials” which Protestant tradition so insists on.
Better to agree with Luke here, than with Calvin and his many disciples. The New Testament must trump later traditions, when they contradict.
Did Luke just edit out all the Trinity and deity of Christ stuff, referring to it as “many other arguments“? Very doubtful! In the context, the other arguments would seem to be other alleged fulfilled prophesies, in addition to the few which Luke relates. (Compare with Apollos later: Acts 18:24-28.) Luke has evidently told us what he thinks is essential to the deal.
Here’s my summary of what, it seems here, you must accept in order to make the deal. Have a left anything out?
If we pack the last five points into the Messiah job description, it can be boiled down to this: Jesus really is God’s Messiah. A simple message, with no metaphysical madness. You can preach this to a third-grader, and she can be saved. I can tell you that first hand, as can countless others. You can also preach it to the senile, the slow, the uneducated, and probably in many cases to the mentally handicapped.
Isn’t that awesome? That is GOOD NEWS. What a relief, that we can justifiably skip the agonies of the “Athanasian” creed when sharing the good news.
But let’s follow through; Luke gives us other example sermons. Perhaps he’s only told us part of what’s essential here in this one. After all, he wrote a whole book (Acts) about the early spread of the gospel.
Next time, a second sermon by Peter.